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Thanks to Cuba

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The first column that I can write each year brings about a difficult choice of topics. Should it be a review of the past year? Or should I delve into trying either to forecast developments in the New Year or to focus on critical issues and challenges before us? What about the current issues, on the local, as well as the regional and international levels?

Yet, in the face of all these matters, equally worthy of comment, forgive me, for those who do not agree, if again, I turn to what has been the most impacting event in our hemisphere in the last century, the triumph of the Cuban Revolution at the beginning of January 1959. Whether one is/was for it or today is for/against that momentous transformation, there is or cannot be any denial of how the Cuban Revolution has impacted on our hemisphere and global relations since then.

Unfortunately, there has been a skewed focus on the Cuban Revolution, both on the side of those who vehemently oppose it and those who romantically are in love with that Revolution. The opponents, up to today see only “communism”, the alleged denial of rights and freedoms and the “shortage of choices in consumer items, along with state domination and “militarism” as the essence of the Cuban Revolution.

By contrast there are the “romantic” images, of the cigar-smoking, rifle-toting, military-clad Fidel Castro and his supposed “sidekick,” Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, which my generation fell in love with – that was the ‘Revo’. It became so easy then to understand Maurice Bishop’s attraction to the youth of our Caribbean.

But the value of the Cuban Revolution, both to its own people and to those of us in the Caribbean and the rest of the world, was far more than the romantic images. The benefits were less openly obvious, but far more long-lasting and transformational. In the immediate aftermath, in the sixties, there was the feeling that young people just had to “rise up”, take up arms and “free the people” from the corrupt governments which were put in place by those who exploited our resources and people. A lot of bitter lessons were taught in the meantime, including the loss of the iconic ‘Che’.

What the romanticism or the rabid anti-Cuba propaganda could not comprehend was the everlasting impact of the Revolution, not in terms of military fatigues or beards, but where the things that define the quality of life of the poor and oppressed were concerned. The rights and freedoms highly touted in the West undoubtedly have their value and place, but what about the right to education, to access to decent health care, priorities of the Cuban Revolution that are still dreams even in developed countries?

Even for those who see military actions as indicative of one’s contribution, there is the undeniable contribution of the Cuban Revolution and the huge sacrifice of its people, in the liberation of much of southern Africa from European colonialism and apartheid and, the crown of all jewels, the release of Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid patriots from prison and the end of the odious system of apartheid itself.

There is more, much more to that colossal contribution of a people bounded by hostility and US-instigated isolation. The cruel embargo, on a people who have never waged war against the USA, is still in place and many of us who today benefit, have been complicit in it. Cuba has made a greater contribution to the development of the human capital of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean than in the entire history of the engagements between these countries and their colonial overlords and 20th century North American successors.

We, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, have every reason to be grateful to the Cuban Revolution. A significant part of our intellectual capital has been trained in Cuba, at little or no cost to the tax-payers of this country. We have been hugely repaid by their contributions, at the national, regional and international levels. Nor are we alone. Many other countries in the Caribbean, from The Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica, right down through the chain to Guyana and Suriname, can boast of such positive experiences.

This does not mean that all is well in Cuba, or that country is a paradise, but on the level of development, make your own conclusions. We have a great deal for which to be in gratitude to the government and people of Cuba. On the 59th anniversary of their Revolution, I am proud to say, THANK YOU.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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